If you’re comfortable looking a bartender straight in the eye and asking for a Sex Panther, then girl, does Jason Cichonski have the bar for you.
That Granny Smith-and-cranberry cosmo isn’t the only cocktail on offer, of course. You could also order a Red Hot Mama (black cherry margarita) or a Mr. Muffin (gin and tonic with strawberry and sage) — though, as with the Pirate Hooker (red currant Bellini), propriety would seem to dictate tacking a “for my friend” onto such requests.
But then, hitting Old City for the propriety is like going to Thailand for the cheese.
You could go to the Gaslight for almost anything — girlie drinks or high-gravity beer, tomato-miso soup or chicken wings — but what you’re likeliest to find is proof that geography is destiny. The Ela chef’s sophomore effort feels like an Old City boîte for singles who’ve almost outgrown them, but who aren’t quite ready to choose between Manayunk and Cougar Town.
Coming off his recent (unsuccessful) turn on Top Chef, Cichonski seems like just the guy to split the difference between, say, Bleu Martini and Fork. And sometimes this affordable place hit the bull’s-eye. Chef de cuisine James Fujioka’s supple tagliatelle showed the kitchen’s potential. Tossed with a ragu of lamb leg braised with romesco fixings and topped with a crispy caper gremolata, it was a dive into deep-belly comfort with a piquant accent that made my mouth water for more.
The Reuben rolls, with house-cured corned beef and sauerkraut, were sticks of fried-bar-snack dynamite. So were the more sophisticated chips with a charred eggplant salsa bearing za’atar-spiced crème fraîche.
There’s a good burger and a great veggie burger, but inconsistency bedevils this 100-seat place. The corned beef in a brunch hash was insufficiently cured. Blandness killed a savory sausage waffle. Creatively topped flatbreads — cooked pre-service — reached me alternately floppy, crunchy and just right. Chicken wings clung rather stubbornly to the bone, and the chipotle-tamarind version was more sweet than spicy or tart. The fried chicken was soggy. Sous-vide “medium-rare beef tartare” — a sop to neighborhood expectations — just felt like the real thing with the wrong texture.
Cocktails, too, were all over the map. Balance found a boulevardier and the black-cherry margarita, but eluded an Aperol fizz and an old-fashioned. An overwrought syrupiness spoiled my hopes for the Jawn — the one drink name I relished saying out loud. But as a rule, I keep strawberries, lychees, green tea and Japanese cartoon characters out of my martinis, so I can’t report on the Hello Kitty.
One Star – Fair
The Gaslight [Foobooz]
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.